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Comics Today's Date:

Our Man From APE:
Chris Garcia and the Quest For Hidden Gold

Every year, I attend the APE or WonderCon looking for the best of the stuff that shimmers beneath the surface. This year's Alternative Press Expo, or APE, was a fantastic place to find the type of stuff that I crave. And I consumed a lot of it. More than 30 'zines and small comics, dozens of postcards, a bunch of stickers and buttons, and a lot of fun. Here now are a few superlatives from this fine Saturday afternoon.

Best Educational Comic:
Sturm und Drang Attempt to Explain the Wat Tyler Rebellion of 1381
One of the first things I bought at the APE, and one of the first creators I spent a lot of time talking to, Ester Gumm's attempt to explain exactly what happened during one of the most violent uprisings of the Middle Ages is beautifully drawn by Karl Christian, and well-researched. This 28 page comic did more to make me understand the events that gave young Richard II such a bad rap. This is easily one of my favorite mini-comics ever.

Best Hot Surfer Girl Comic:
Bikini Automatic #1
Wow. A HOT HOT HOT bikini babe, ironically named Bikini Automatic, has been hired to watch over a beach where strange happenings are afoot during the Surf Competition. It's a fun little story, but the highlight is the beautiful art of Ken Wright. Bikini is a beautiful (and scantily clad) beach bunny who seems to ring a bit of Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle. The art is cartoon crisp and wonderful. Check out www.kenwrightonline.com for more details and to order this fantastic comic.

Best Recipes:
The Arcana Jayne Pot Luck Cookbook
MpMann & Arcana Jayne creator Lisa Jonte made a great little comic, and then went about adding a couple of great recipes to it. I was hooked by the opening page (Arcana shooting craps with a bunch of cute little faeries) and held the whole way through. Recipes include Lemon Cookies, katsudon (my personal fave at Japanese restaurants) and Autumn Stuffing.You can read Arcana Jayne and a bunch of other great features at www.girlmatic.com.

Best Comic Strip Collection:
Neurotica: Pretty Smiles by Big Al, The Gal
Last year at WonderCon, I bought a copy of Moo, a little strip book done by the lovely Big Al, the Gal and Sandy Clark. That dissolved and Big Al went on to Neurotica, a fantastic strip that you can read in The San Francisco Observer, The Tideland News, or on www.uclick.com. It's a great little strip, complete with Petunia, who is a little bit of Cathy only highly entertaining and not annoying, and her crazy grandfather who is 99. I love their discovery of the power of an ant colony and their trip to LA for St. Valentine's Day. A great strip from a great creator.

Best Trend:
Comics I Reviewed From WonderCon Last Year Making Good
Not one, but two of the comics that I reviewed in my post-WonderCon wrap-up, Lex Talionis: A Jungle Tale by Aneurin Wright and Pirate Club by Derek Hunter and Bryan Young, both got big releases from Image and Slave Labor Graphics, respectively. Lex Talionis was a huge winner with the new version, as the full color is magnificent and is something that everyone should go out and get, as it means a serious return to the old-school adventure comic may be on the way.

Best Trip Down Memory Lane for Christopher J. Garcia:
The Emersonians
I ran into a guy I knew from Emerson by the name of benjones. He's a genius and always has been. The type of guy who could do anything and make it good. Oh how I loathe him and his talent! Anyhoo, I ran into him and we reminisced about old Emerson, and he showed me After The Beep: volumes 1 and 2.

Apparently, he forced people to improvise poetry every time they called to leave a message on his answering machine. Benjones turned these little masterpieces in a pair of great journals. There were messages from my old roommate and a guy I used to talk to on the bus from my dorm to our classes.

His book of comic shorts that he gave me, called Shorts, was also brilliant. You can find more of his stuff at www.thebenjones.com.

Also there was Emersonian Darcey Leonard. I think I met her once or twice back at school, but you always stick by those who went through the same hell.

Best Preview Issue:
SuperPower of Attorney.
If the preview issue is any indication, SuperPower of Attorney will be a great comic. It's funny, it's fresh and it's everything I love about lawyer shows, only in comic form. Featuring a character with marked similarities to a certain undersea member of the Superfriends, this little preview had me laughing my head off. Look for SuperPower of Attorney this Summer and visit www.billroundy.com for more details.

Best Romance (and Best Sports Training Montage in a Comic):
Air by Thien! Pham
Set against the backdrop of the World Air Hockey Championships, Air is a love story that doesn't turn off its male readers. How does it manage? Well, mostly by being The Karate Kid. Indy Steel, great name by the way, is a dot-com kid whose dad was a legendary air hockey champion until Marv Wheeler broke his wrist using an illegal puck. Indy's fiancé is a cold woman who refuses to accept that Indy should be playing air hockey. Laura Lau is the girl he sees playing one day and decides to start training her for the championships. Eventually, Indy decides to sign up too, and there, in glorious black and white, is a training montage set to Survivor's Eye of the Tiger. A great comic from the folks at e-z cheese comics, and you can find more info at www.e-zcheese.com.

Best Anthology:

I've said it before, I'll say it again; I miss comic anthologies. SlamBang, published by Fan-atic Press, is a sensational piece of work. The opening story, Unscary Monsters by Anton Bogary, is awesome, with beautiful art and a hilarious tale of Frankenstein's Monster coming to grips with his lifestyle. Darby O'Spudnots and Slacker A.C. are both amusing little heresies, and the one-pager Last Kiss by John Lustig had me laughing. Great stuff from these good people.

Best Traditional Comic Book:
The Motherless One
by Gene Luen Yang
The Monkey King is the classic folk hero of ancient China. I remember hearing old Monkey King stories when I was a kid hanging out with my Chinese friends down the block. This is the tale of The Monkey King discovering that he was born from a rock and his trip to see the rock that resides on the top of Flower-Fruit Mountain. Unfortunately, that's also where the Tiger Spirit lives, and the two of them let it all out in an Ancient Chinese brawl. It's such a great comic. The pace is brilliant and the art is wonderfully stylized. I was drawn into it by the character of the Monkey King, who is at once cocky and confused by his place in the world. You can find out more info on Gene Yang at www.humblecomics.com.

Best in Show:
Blotto's Folly by Curtis Broadway
Last year's WonderCon found me falling in love with a little, spiral-bound book called Dr. Ready by Curtis Broadway. It was a nice little series of images done in a pen and ink style that amazed me. This year, Curtis was at the APE and pushing a work that I believe is the finest combination of poetry and imagery since the illuminated works of William Blake. These are poems written by Broadway to his girlfriend at the time, and they must have been effective as she is now his wife. The art is gorgeous, with hints of 1960s pop art and Russian constructionist works. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is the fact that Broadway printed the entire thing by himself on a hundred and nine year old printing press. Since the press did not allow you to add ink as you go, there is a beautiful variance in the amount of ink on some of the drawings, which adds a lot of texture to the pieces. This is an all-around beautiful book of poetry and art.

Chris Garcia

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